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Veronica Zemanova; Beauty and the East

The Veronica Zemanova that is sitting with me and sipping pineapple juice is much different from the tall, startlingly beautiful young woman from southern Bohemia that arrived in Prague several years ago.

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I just watched a film I have been wanting to watch for a long time now; I watched it so I could write a review here and now.

The film is Seven Samurai, directed by Akira Kurosawa.

I read somewhere that The Magnificent Seven completely copied this original Japanese film (and it is quite obviously true), but Seven Samurai is far superior to its flimsy Hollywood counterpart even if Czechs think The Magnificent Seven is the greatest American Western ever made (it's on Czech TV every year accompanied with dubbed tough guy talk, and I would bet that its annual broadcast predates the Velvet Revolution).

Too bad Seven Samurai is not an annual Czech event, because it is truly an epic film, epic in a very Japanese way, but that is part of the reason I like foreign films, to learn about other cultures - and with Seven Samurai I simultaneously rinsed the bad taste of Hollywood out of my mouth.

All the differences between Magnificent Seven and Seven Samurai are what make the latter so much better than the former.

For example, the big Western showdown is a lot of shoot 'em up (I would guess fifteen minutes film time) then it's all over except for the glory, but the Eastern showdown lasts days (about two hours film time) and is more like a gruelling war, complete with hunger and battle fatigue - and there is no glory, but valor. 

Seven Samurai uses realism superbly, and this puts the film into an entirely different category, like what I would call a world cinema classic, and a pre-requisite for every pre-major.

Czechs claim that I will never understand what it was to live under Communism since I never lived under Communism and it is something you can't really understand unless you live through it. I suspect they are right, though I can never know.

That said, the film that most clearly depicts the nature of Communism and, more particularly, dictatorships is a Russian film called Burnt By The Sun. It is one of the greatest films I have ever seen, the kind that stick with you and haunt your dreams for the remainder of your life.

It is a tragic story of a man betrayed by his own cause, or perhaps betrayed by his own naive belief in Communism. 

I have seen many films that carry this theme (the American film Reds, for example) but no other film has ever shown so clearly the evil machinery that makes a dictatorship succeed.

Even the last image of the film, a giant floating banner of Stalin, perfectly symbolizes something beyond all these words we use to express things. Film at its best shows us reality as opposed to explaining it, wordless reality, like a dream you understand but can't explain.

Perhaps I will never really grasp what it means to live in a dictatorship, but Burnt By The Sun communicated to me more clearly what dictatorship is, and that alone makes the film worth watching.

Leather and tattoos, violence, sex and rape, a family immersed in impoverished love and a death that brings their spirits home again are captured in this classic New Zealand film Once Were Warriors.

Rena Owens plays Beth Heke, mother of five and wife to Jake the Mus (Temuera Morrison). She is the unstable foundation holding together the last shreds of a family shattered by poverty, alcohol and violence. Her eldest son lost to a tribal gang looking for an identity and culture lost. 

Bogi, her 16-year old son taken away to a boys home after it was determined that his parents were unable to watch after him properly, begins the crumbling of the walls falling down.

The suicide of the eldest daughter Gracey, 13, brings the roof caving in and truth flowing out. The truth, that Jake a brutal husband is a slave to his hands fists that kill, that beat, that turn the face of the wife he loves into meat, used for control, for hatred for himself. 

Jake, a man that came from slaves and is a slave to the world around him. He is a victim to his lineage married to a woman who was the prize of her tribe.

Unable to marry in the sacred temple near her home she left choosing instead a life with a man she loved, in a town that ate away her soul.

Jake's resentment slowly shines brighter as the family decays on the surface.

Underneath lies another truth about a family, a people lost, enslaved but breaking free. Gracey's death brings together a family giving them all strength and courage to leave behind their impoverished lives and return to their tribe of people who once were warriors.

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